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Episcopal Church House of Deputies President Anderson offers commentary on Church governance and change

March 4, 2011

Change is in the water. Our society is changing demographically and economically, the size and resource base of our church is changing and the world is changing through climate change, population change, technology and a host of other factors. We are swimming in change.

In particular, governance change is in the Episcopal Church's water. We all want to move into the future with structures that allow us to respond to the world around us, to work more efficiently and to devote our resources to mission and ministry at home and abroad. As we begin to consider this needed reform, which Executive Council has asked the Standing Commission on the Structure of the Church to coordinate, I want us to do our work with respect for the water that is central to our identity: the water of our baptism.

Our governance is grounded in our theology of baptism, which is essential to our identity as Episcopalians. I am privileged to serve with many people whose work within our current governance structures is a faithful response to the Holy Spirit and to their baptismal promises. While our governance needs to be reformed, it is not broken, and it brings forth holy work from holy people. We must approach reform with respect for their ministry among us.

Our church's representative structure, where all of the baptized work together to make decisions and set policy, is also a great attraction for people seeking a community of faith where their voices can be heard and those in flight from more authoritarian denominations. In our haste to reform, let us not sacrifice evangelism.

Our governance also enables our mission as the people of God. As I go around the church I see living testimony of this fact in extraordinary people who embrace their baptismal promises, gain strength and affirmation from General Convention resolutions and put those words into action in significant and selfless ways. Across the church, local governance structures like vestries, bishop’s committees and diocesan conventions are amplifying General Convention resolutions by making collective contributions to mission work like rebuilding in Haiti, supporting the NetsforLife Inspiration Fund to carry out General Convention's commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, among other efforts. I am eager to discern ways of reforming our governance that can make ministry like this more possible and even more productive.

These examples, along with many others, show clearly that it is a false choice to suggest, as some have done, that governance that is faithful to our identity as Episcopalians is incompatible with mission. This false choice between governance and mission will not serve us well and, in fact, it devalues the ministry of people who have devoted years to putting General Convention resolutions into meaningful action in their daily lives.

I want us to consider governance reform proposals with great respect and humility for the Episcopalians, past and present, whose mission has been possible because of our representative, inclusive governance. And I want us to proceed carefully in making changes that could diminish the mandate and strength of mission around the church. Rather, I want to be sure that our reforms result in more support for the ministry that happens in parishes and dioceses around our church because committed Episcopalians are living out their baptismal vows.

To achieve reform that will support ministry around the church, we need to look comprehensively at our governance structures. It's tempting to focus our energy on General Convention reform, but General Convention accounts for only 7.6% of our budget and has actually decreased proportionally in the Episcopal Church's budget since the 2000-2003 triennium. In addition to taking a look at General Convention, if we are interested in making our governance more cost-effective across the board, we need to consider how to reform and streamline other structures that cost more and are less transparent. How can we develop reforms that will free up more resources and energy for supporting local ministry?

Change is in the water. Let's proceed together with fidelity to all of the voices in our church, to the work that God has called us to do and to our continued journey to bring the church we love closer to the kingdom of God.

Bonnie Anderson


Episcopal Church House of Deputies


The Episcopal Church welcomes all who worship Jesus Christ in 109 dioceses and three regional areas in 16 nations. The Episcopal Church is a member province of the worldwide Anglican Communion.


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Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer